On the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, The New York Times published an article titled, “Biden and Bush Urge Unity as Nation Remembers Sept. 11.” The article quotes President Bush as saying, “On America’s day of trial and grief, I saw millions of people instinctively grab for a neighbor’s hand and rally to the cause of one another… That is the America I know.”
Biden, in a video posted on Twitter, later shared a similar sentiment when he said, “Unity is what makes us who we are… To me, that’s the central lesson of September 11.”
The “unity” that was allegedly cultivated in the aftermath of the attacks was exploited by the Bush administration for imperial ends. The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) was passed just seven days after the attack with only one dissenting voice in the House: Barbara Lee. Republicans and Democrats were unified indeed. In the bombing campaign that ensued in early October, un-creatively named Operation Enduring Freedom, as many as 4,000 civilians were killed in the first few months, surpassing civilian deaths in New York by 1,000.
The war in Afghanistan just ended. During its 20-year span, 5.7 million people were displaced. Afghan civilian deaths, according to AP, number higher than 47,000. The number of Afghans killed fighting on both sides is more than 111,000. Over 500 journalists and aid workers were killed. Just last month, we launched a drone strike killing 43-year-old Zemari Ahmadi who was working for Nutrition and Education International, an American aid group. The strike also killed ten of his family members including seven children. Jeremy Scahill’s 2013 documentary Dirty Wars documents the actions of special operations units in Afghanistan during Obama’s tenure, brazenly murdering civilians in the middle of the night. In 2012, video surfaced of American soldiers peeing on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters. CIA-trained paramilitary groups terrorized much of the country. In December 2018, 12 boys in a religious school were killed in one of these paramilitary group’s night raids.
That AUMF, voted for nearly unanimously, would be possibly the most consequential legislation passed in the U.S. regarding foreign policy. It would be used to justify drone strikes in seven countries and secretive military operations in countless others. During the Obama administration alone, air strikes killed more than 2,700 people in Iraq and Syria. In Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia, Obama’s drone strikes killed as many as 800 civilians. Trump’s air campaign in Raqqa, Syria killed possibly 1,800 civilians. Trump also dropped the “Mother of all Bombs,” the largest non-nuclear weapon in the world.
For some reason, the Bush administration was able to lie to us all, saying that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and a connection to Al Qaeda, and entirely get away with it. In fact, they’re all being rehabilitated in the media. President Bush is friends with Michelle Obama and Ellen DeGeneres. Rumsfeld was interviewed a few years ago on Steven Colbert. Little mainstream relitigating has been done over the torture at Abu Ghraib or the detainees disappeared at Guantanamo Bay and so-called “black sites” around the world. As many as 200,000 civilians have been killed. Some estimates claim one million people have been killed by violence stemming from the U.S. invasion. Today, 6.5 million Iraqis need humanitarian aid.
On Sept. 15, 2001, the first victim of a Sept. 11-inspired hate crime was killed in the United States. Between 2000 and 2009, hate crimes against Muslims spiked by 500%. Blaming Muslims or Islam for the attacks is a commonly practiced form of Islamophobia still today.
Tulsi Gabbard, former congressperson from Hawaii, tweeted, “Let us #NeverForget that it was the Islamist ideology which inspired the terrorist attacks and declaration of war against America on 9/11. And it is the Islamist ideology that continues to fuel terrorist attacks around the world.”
When Feisal Abdul Rauf tried to build an Islamic center a full two blocks from Ground Zero, it became a national outrage, comprising hours of news coverage by all the major cable outlets while protests were led by the Stop Islamization of America organization.
Perhaps, the lesson we should learn then is not of unity, because that reaction became an excuse to bomb one half of the world and demonize the other. Maybe we should figure out why the attacks happened.
Orwell famously said, “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” On September 20, President Bush, gave his famed “Why Do They Hate Us” speech.
President Bush answered his own question by saying, “They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”
The fallaciousness of this statement is readily demonstrable. Its purpose was to justify the atrocities that would comprise President Bush’s “war on terror” declared four days prior.
20 years later, it would be repeated by Vice President Mike Pence, who said, “It’s so important that we teach young Americans we were attacked because we love freedom. We were attacked because of our ideals.”
President Bush was not the first president to inquire about hatred towards the United States in the Middle East.
In a memorandum of a conversation between then-Vice President Richard Nixon and President Dwight Eisenhower on July 15, 1958, it can be read that Eisenhower was worried about a Middle Eastern, “campaign of hatred against us, not by the governments but by the people.” The reason for this campaign had already been provided to Eisenhower in a National Security Council Report on January 24, 1958. That report reads, “In the eyes of the majority of Arabs the United States appears to be opposed to the realization of the goals of Arab nationalism. They believe that the United States is seeking to protect its interest in Near East oil by supporting the status quo and opposing political or economic progress.” That majority would not be incorrect. U.S. action in the Middle East has, in fact, been largely centered around oil. Defense of regional interests has been entirely at the expense of human rights and democracy. Just five years prior to this report, the Eisenhower administration had supported a military coup to overthrow Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, after he nationalized the nation’s oil industry.
A definitive answer was also given by Osama Bin Laden himself. In a 1998 fatwa, Bin Laden calls, “on every Muslim who believes in God and wishes to be rewarded to comply with God’s order to kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they find it.” The purposes he gave were:
"...three facts that are known to everyone… First… the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples… Second, despite the great devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people by the crusader-Zionist alliance, and despite the huge number of those killed, which has exceeded 1 million… despite all this, the Americans are once again trying to repeat the horrific massacres, as though they are not content with the protracted blockade imposed after the ferocious war or the fragmentation and devastation… Third, if the Americans’ aims behind these wars are religious and economic, the aim is also to serve the Jews’ petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and the murder of Muslims."
What should be glaringly obvious to the reader of these three reasons is the lack of mention of American democracy and freedoms. To seriously understand the motivation behind terrorism in Western nations, one must understand the historic role of American foreign policy in the Middle East. In his book Dying to Win, University of Chicago’s Robert Pape presents findings of his research into every act of suicide terrorism between 1980 and 2003. He writes:
"...there is little connection between suicided terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any of the world’s religions. In fact, the leading instigators of suicide attacks are the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, a Marxist-Leninist group whose members are from Hindu families but who are adamantly opposed to religion. This group committed 76 of the 315 incidents, more suicide attacks than Hamas."
What Pape finds, is that “…what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland.” Reading the words of Bin Laden, this conclusion seems evident.
If the United States government knew that religion and hatred of modernity had nothing to do with the impetus behind the attack, as they had for years been considering the question, and Bin Laden was open about what instigated his holy war, why did President Bush lie? Because pride in our institutions and national unity, could be used to justify the utter slaughter of people in the Middle East that would allow for the lining of corporate pockets. In Afghanistan, the Hamid Karzai government allowed for the previously-halted building of an Enron pipeline. Enron happened to have been the largest campaign contributor to the Bush Administration. In Iraq, over twenty international oil companies are currently operating within that country whose oil industry was once nationalized. It is time we do away with the mythology of “unity” because as it is defined by the most powerful, it only serves the most powerful and hurts the most vulnerable.